Questo che segue è il primissimo articolo interamente in lingua inglese realizzato dal sottoscritto. La versione italiana è stata pubblicata sul noto sito specializzato in storia della Frontiera "Farwest.it" (eccovi il link: https://www.farwest.it/?p=30680 - "La casa-museo di Doc Holliday" ). Si tratta di una spiegazione su alcuni aspetti della vita di John Henry Holliday, il celeberrimo Doc amico di Wyatt Earp, che comprende anche un'intervista esclusiva con la proprietaria della casa che fu la dimora del periodo adolescenziale di Doc, situata a Valdosta, Georgia. Proprio con la suddetta proprietaria, miss Susanna Dover Harris, ho concordato l'ideazione dell'articolo anche in inglese affinchè potesse venire diffuso maggiormente negli States tramite social, contatti raggiunti via email ma non solo. La stessa miss Susanna ha verificato che nella mia traduzione non ci fossero errori di grammatica o strafalcioni tali da far correre la mano alla sputa-fuoco e mi ha confermato l'interesse per il pezzo nella sua duplice veste: classica ed "a stelle e strisce".
Le foto che vedrete intervallare la parte scritta sono state tutte scattate direttamente in loco da miss Susanna con il suo cellulare: raffigurano alcuni scorci degli interni e dell'esterno della Casa come appare oggi. Unica eccezione: ce n'è anche una datata, per mostrare come appariva l'edificio in tempi passati.
What is “the West”?
After hearing this word we all dust off the maze of our sensations, emotions and memories related to a film, a book or a comic. Each of us has a different way of approaching that cruel, wild but fascinating time. There are also those who argue that the West that has come down to us, precisely because filtered by the perceptions of others, is not the real one, that the authentic one had nothing in common even with the ugliest, dirtiest and worst idea the most pessimistic contemporary enthusiasts can build in their mind about those years. Well, as with many things, the truth must be sought in the middle between the two extremes. If it's true the collective imagination was inevitably influenced by writings first and then by directors, the duels didn't take place with the two contenders stopped in the main street of a town, in those situations the volume of fire counted as and often more than a good aim, there was a difference between marshal and sheriff, the injuries to a shoulder were not "just a scratch" at all or if you don't want to go beyond the veil of time you risk to be entangled in a series of clichés which do not match the reality of the facts, it's true that a whole circus must not be considered a priori a fictitious invention in the style of a playground.
On the other hand, this applies to various historiographical contexts: even ancient Romans didn't make the sign of "ok" when it came to pardoning a gladiator indeed this is an example in which modern gestures have completely changed reality because according to studies, neither too recent, those who had to decree life or death in the arena after the clash, if one of the opponents was still alive, yes, he used his thumb but with a meaning contrary to what we all think. It was to say "kill him" that he kept his thumb up, since it meant "use your sword" (or dagger, if you like), while when the defeated warrior had proved deserving magnanimity he turned his thumb at the bottom as if to simulate that the blade should be put back in the sheath.
As many will know, ok instead comes from "zero killed", that is, nobody killed, daily report spread in the camps of the American Civil War, so just “a few years” after the time of warlords, gods from Mount Olympus and legionaires who pecked slaps by Asterix and Obelix.
Apart from this digression added in order to give you an idea, returning to our prairies, especially in recent decades even the stories about the West, on paper or "celluloid", have rediscovered the need to follow events more in a realistic context, more true compared to the plausible only, obviously, however, always having to submit to rules and limitations objectively not avoidable.
I mean, no one who isn't a history buff to the bone or a nosy (or both like myself) cares if a famous gunslinger really suffered from toothache and the audience don't want to pay the ticket to see him face the barber on duty with only half a bottle of whiskey and a sturdy pair of pincers, and for sure don't want to know the reality of the consequences of a life spent in the saddle at the expense of certain parts of the body... I think I made the idea.
When myth and history mix, it's not always possible to find the right track and sometimes we can be influenced by legend: the passing of the decades englobes people and events like a fog.
An illustrious model is John Henry Holliday, the "Doc" friend of Wyatt Earp, a former dentist and gambler, who always lived challenging fate and death, that death he carried inside represented by tuberculosis. Leaving aside the opinions, positive or negative, on his controversial figure, also because they can be easily misrepresented and interpreted individually (sometimes in a rational way while others are mere "saloon speeches" that leave the time they find without being founded on real and demonstrable facts), much better to rely on something solid and tangible.
And what is more tangible than a house, moreover a house thanks to which myth and history come together? What I propose below is an exclusive interview, for Italy for sure but I dare say for Europe, it sounds resonant but I really believe it is so and if you continue reading you will understand why, which I managed to get from Miss Susanna Dover Harris, owner of the house that was the home of John Henry Holliday as a child. (For obvious reasons, some time has passed since I started getting interested and contacting Miss Susanna.)
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SUSANNA DOVER HARRIS
Hello. Thanks for your time and kindness.
QUESTION - I discovered the existence of the house thanks to a post you published in the group on Facebook relating to Doc Holliday where you explained that you had purchased his "old" home in Valdosta, Georgia, and that you wanted to renovate it to create a museum dedicated to him. Can you tell us more about it? Will the house be a public museum or a private facility? Will it be finished and open in December (2019)?
ANSWER - The house we purchased in August 14, 2018 (coincidentally Doc's birthday) will be our private home. The interior restoration/renovation along with several additions are now complete. The back yard and pool area are now under construction as we removed an old large pool. In December 2019, we opened our doors to the community for a city tour of homes.
QUESTION - Can you tell our readers why Doc Holliday? How is the spirit of the famous gambler, of his legend, still alive in Valdosta?
ANSWER - For a once sleepy railroad town in South Georgia, it has always been a point of local fascination that a legend like John Henry Holliday would have ties to the area. He was born north of here, but spent his teenage years in Valdosta. His father stayed here for many years until his death. There is a very nice exhibit at the local “Lowndes County Historical Society and Museum” about Doc's life and story in Valdosta.
QUESTION - May we know something about the house? The rooms, how its structure looks and everything you think is interesting and you want to share. When and how long did Doc live in Valdosta?
ANSWER - The house itself was constructed in 1860 on a farm outside of Valdosta. Doc lived in the house with his family approximately between 1864-1872. In 1870, he left for dental school and moved back for a short time upon his graduation. He moved out west due to his battle with tuberculosis, which he more than likely contracted from his mother. The house was occupied until at least 1891 by the Holliday family. It then changed hands and locations numerous times until 1980 when it was moved to its current location in Valdosta.
QUESTION - Are there any specific details for anyone who is fond of the old West and history?
ANSWER - Originally the house was entirely wood framed with ship lap surfaces. Over the years when electricity was added and plumbing, walls were encased in Sheetrock and moldings added. The original kitchen outbuilding was attached to the back of the house for additional living space in the 1980s. The original heart pine floors in the dining room still exists, the two mantles are hand planed and have never been painted, and there are many original windows and frameworks.
QUESTION - Could you send us some photos as a sort of preview of the interior, even if only of a particular area, if you prefer, of a room and of the exterior?
ANSWER - I will attach the photos to the email, taken directly from my phone. (They are the ones you can see in the article)
QUESTION - Will the house have a name?
ANSWER - The house has always been called "The Doc Holliday House".
QUESTION - What should people know to visit Valdosta and your home? Will there be a website or a social page to get some more information about it, such as the address and organization?
ANSWER - The house will not be open to the public as it was bought to be a private home. However, we intend to entertain and open our doors regularly as it is a fascinating part of Lowndes County history.
To better understand the words of the kind Miss Susanna, we need to make some clarifications.Valdosta is the county seat of Lowndes County, Georgia. It's currently the fourteenth largest city in Georgia. It's called Azalea City, because in that area the flower grows very widely. The city hosts an annual azalea festival in March. Lowndes County is located along the Georgian border with Florida. Part of the Grand Bay, a 13,000-acre swamp is included in its territory.
The museum mentioned in the interview is the "Lowndes County Historical Society Museum" which has a site where you can read a page dedicated to Doc's life, you will also find pictures of his parents, and his dentist activity with a lot of tariff for outpatient services. This is the link: http://valdostamuseum.com/exhibitions/.
Obviously we cannot forget the reason why everyone knows Doc, namely the shooting at the Ok Corral, alongside the Earp brothers, who faced a group of Cowboys, gang of outlaws, assassins and cattle thieves (however you think on Holliday and Wyatt Earp they really were terrible outlaws, ruthless and wild, so much so that in those areas the same term "cowboy" acquired a negative meaning becoming synonymous with scoundrel) in Tombstone in a hard-hitting fire fight that lasted only 30 seconds but whose shots never stopped echoing, conflict that led to a cascade of violence following which a brother of the famous Wyatt Earp, Morgan, was killed in an ambush and another brother, Virgil, at the time Marshal of the city, had an arm paralyzed because of his injuries and which resulted in the equally famous "Vendetta ride", a long ride of revenge by Wyatt, and Doc at his side, to close the matter with their opponents.To better understand the words of the kind Miss Susanna, we need to make some clarifications.Valdosta is the county seat of Lowndes County, Georgia. It's currently the fourteenth largest city in Georgia. It's called Azalea City, because in that area the flower grows very widely. The city hosts an annual azalea festival in March. Lowndes County is located along the Georgian border with Florida. Part of the Grand Bay, a 13,000-acre swamp is included in its territory.
The school that Holliday attended is the "Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery", believed to be founded among others by his cousin Robert in 1856, who may have pushed him towards that path. John Henry's uncle himself served as a surgeon during the Civil War. Doc graduated on March 1, 1872, two years after his enrollment, and was awarded with the title of "Doctor of Dental Surgery". Shortly thereafter he began practicing the profession in an Atlanta studio. Pennsylvania Dental College was the pride of Philadelphia and was the second oldest operating dental school in the United States, opened until its closure in 1909. The faculty derived from what is now the Temple University and University of Pennsylvania. In a historical period completely devoid of "pink quotas", this university was an exception that deserves to be underlined. Henriette Hirschfeld-Tiburtius, originally from Germany, became the first woman to attend a full university course of dentistry. Henriette graduated in 1869. As said, Doc was born in Griffin, Spalding County, Georgia, on August 14, 1851, but lived his youth in Valdosta. When he was only 15, his mother, Jane McKey Holliday, died of tuberculosis, as if the disease constituted a dark curse that weighed on his family. Holliday spent most of his childhood in Valdosta and had many family ties rooted in this area (his father Henry Burroughs Holliday was also mayor of Valdosta). Some of his distant relatives still live in Lowndes County. He was one of the first students of the Valdosta Institute, a private school that provided him with a strong classical education in mathematics, grammar, history, Latin and French. After graduation, he spent some time in the town as an apprentice to Dr. Lucian Fredrick Frink.
Several years ago, in an official document of the county of Lowndes, a certification of Doc Holliday's work was even found, where there was the account of a surgical performance that also included the extraction of three teeth to a local lady, Corinthia Morgan: $ 21 total payable to trainee Dr. Holliday. Later, he temporarily moved first to Atlanta with the intent to start his career, although initially, hoping that the climate in the American South-West would alleviate his symptoms, he headed to the West and first settled in Dallas, Texas, working in a dental office with his Georgian colleague John A. Seegar.
By now we know, there are no absolute certainties on the photographs that would have immortalized John Henry Holliday in the turbulent years in which his fame as a "gunman" (or rather a "gunslinger", that is, an adventurer who knew how to deal with the gun, because even if he was a man with lights and shadows, he was not a vulgar bandit nor a hired gunman) preceded him wherever he went, although even in this case reality has given way to myth, not to mention the last period of his stormy existence, when he was now proven by tuberculosis.
In fact there are only two images historians agree about, the only ones accepted in the most rigorous studies. You can see them in the form of portraits made by the writer of this article.
Wyatt Earp speaking of Holliday stated that he considered him: "... a loyal friend and a good companion. He was a dentist whom necessity had transformed into a gambler, a gentleman whose illness had made him a vagabond, a philosopher whose life had made him a 'caustic spirit', a blond and long-limbed type half dead of tubercolosis but at the same time the most skilled gambler and with a gun in his hand the most daring, quick and deadly man... "he ever met.
Obviously the judgment is a bit biased but if this is not a confirmation of mutual esteem, I don't know what could be. A detail not known to everyone is that Doc was not actually a man with raven hair but blond, at least light, a detail also confirmed by other witnesses, such as Virgil Earp's wife.
It's not explicit if thinking of doing him a favor, but his closest friends, Wyatt Earp at the head, have repeated exaggerated stories to journalists and potential authors who for their part, following the "dime novels" style, had no problems in adding stories also inflated to make their pieces more sensational. Because of his bad reputation, his family in Georgia denied Doc.
It doesn't matter if you consider him a villain or if you are among those who look at this complicated but loyal man with more benevolent eyes. These are some of his words: "... my memories of Arizona are not as bad as they were meant to be. All I want is to be left alone, I don't aspire to be a bad person." Statement made in September 1883 in Leadville, Colorado, to a reporter from the Denver Tribune.
Unfortunately, the demon who consumed him internally, from which he derived his way of living always to the limit and who had forced him to look at death in the eyes every day, and to make him contemptuous and defiant towards the same old lady with the scythe, as well as faced with the dangers of an entire adventurous existence, won inexorably: John Henry Holliday passed away in Glenwood Springs in the Glenwood Hotel on November 8, 1887.
His last words were said to be: "... this is fun."
Bizarre curiosity for connoisseurs you will find on the website of the Valdosta Museum: what do Margaret Mitchell, author of "Gone With The Wind" and the famous Doc Holliday have in common? Soon said. Miss Mitchell based the character of Melanie Hamilton on Martha Ann "Mattie" Holliday. Martha became Sister Melanie after joining the Order of the Sisters of Mercy. Sister Melanie was a first cousin and intimate friend of Doc who had no living brothers, so he and sister Melanie maintained a rather close correspondence throughout their lives. From Jonesboro, Martha Holliday (sister Melanie) with her mother and brothers took refuge in Valdosta on the farm of Henry B. Holliday from October 1864 until the end of the Civil War. Philip Fitzgerald, Robert Kennedy Holliday's uncle (one of Doc's uncles) was the great-grandfather of the writer Margaret Mitchell. Of the eight children born to Robert Kennedy Holliday and his wife there was Martha Anne "Mattie" Holliday.
Doc was 36 when he died but his legend still echoes today among the canyons of history, in that gray area where some men become mythical characters and the stories become immortal narratives.